Wildlife officials: Tahoe Basin bears have a ‘people problem’
According to wildlife officials, the Tahoe Basin doesn’t have a bear problem; it has a people problem. More than the drought, the frequency of human and bear interactions are a credit to poorly managed garbage.
“The drought has had no effect that we can point to,” Andrew Hughan, public information officer for California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said regarding human and bear interactions. “The (bear) population is pretty healthy from what I understand. I’m surprised there haven’t been more (incidents) statewide.”
With regards to the Tahoe Basin, Hughan cited better access to water than other parts of the state.
Ann Bryant, executive director of the Tahoe Basin’s BEAR League advocacy group, echoed Hughan’s statement’s regarding area conditions.
“The drought is a concern of course,” Bryant said, adding however, “it really isn’t as horrific as we thought it would be.”
Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service even pointed toward fewer human and bear interactions at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center — where incidents were a problem last fall. A source with the Forest Service said a diminished salmon run was likely the reason for the decrease in the number of bears seen in the area.
Bear management in urban areas remains a much larger concern.
Both Byrant and Hughan said the biggest issue continues to be access to trash.
“It’s really the same old, same old,” Hughan said.
Both believe it’s an even more pressing issue on the South Shore than for the North Shore.
“I think that tourism is different in the north than in the south,” Hughan explained. “The people that rent on the north side of the lake are more aware of the issues.”
He said he believes the tourism base on the North Shore is more return-visitor and second-homeowner focused, where the South Shore may have more one-time visitors because of the casinos.
“A lot of it is just ignorance of the situation. If you come from Los Angeles (for example) you don’t necessarily know,” Hughan said.
Bryant, however, put some of the onus on South Lake Tahoe area residents and El Dorado County’s lack of enforcement of a local trash ordinance.
“South Lake Tahoe is just disgusting. People know there are bears here; they just don’t care,” Bryant said, referring to proper trash management. “It’s a no-brainer, but a lot of people have no brains.”
She said there are plenty of places people can take their garbage, and even just waiting until the day of trash pickup would substantially cut back the conflict. But that doesn’t happen.
Chris Healy, a spokesman for Nevada Department of Wildlife agreed, describing similar trouble across the border around Stateline.
“If you eliminate human garbage as a source of food, you go a long ways to solving many of the bear/human problems,” he said.
He also called for a stronger policy, saying, it isn’t up to either the California or Nevada fish and wildlife departments.
“We’re not the garbage people. We can’t make that decision,” he said, adding that bear proofing should be mandatory.
And while in South Lake Tahoe restaurants and motels are often credited as trash management offenders, Bryant said they do a reasonable job.
“I have to give them credit, they do try hard,” she said. “Five years ago some of the restaurants were notoriously bad. A lot of them have come up to speed.”
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